James II was the second surviving son of Charles I and younger brother of Charles II. He was created Duke of York, and was in Oxford during the Civil War. After the defeat of the Royalists he escaped with his mother and brother to The Hague and then exile in France. His father was executed in 1649. James served in the French army and later in the Spanish Army. After the death of Cromwell and the restoration of the monarchy he returned to England where his brother had been crowned Charles II.

James was created Lord High Admiral and warden of the Cinque Ports, and commanded the Royal Navy during the 2nd and 3rd Anglo-Dutch wars. He created controversy when in 1660 he married Anne Hyde a commoner and daughter of Charles’s chief minister Edward Hyde. They had 7 children but only two survived infancy - Mary (later Queen Mary II) and Anne (later Queen Anne). His daughters were raised as Protestants but, influenced by his time in France and Spain, James converted to Catholicism in 1670. Following Anne Hyde’s death in 1671, he married Mary of Modena a 15 year old Italian Catholic princess. James’s critics described her as ‘an agent of the Pope’.

Parliament became alarmed at the prospect of Catholic succession and in 1673 passed the Test Act which excluded Catholics from political office. In 1679 Shaftesbury attempted to introduce an Exclusion Bill to exclude James from the succession and substitute Charles’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth, but this was rebutted by Charles who dissolved Parliament. James became King James II on the death of his brother in 1685. He soon faced two rebellions intent on removing him in Scotland by the Duke of Argyll, and from an army raised by the Duke of Monmouth which was defeated by John Churchill (6th great grandfather of Winston Churchill) in July 1685 at the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset. The Monmouth rebels were brutally punished by Judge Jeffrey’s Bloody Assizes. James, believing his Divine Right as King, issued the Declaration of Indulgence to suspend the Test Act and promote his Catholic supporters in Parliament. The Archbishop of Canterbury and seven other bishops were arrested and tried for sedition. Amidst widespread alarm, the birth in 1688 of his Catholic heir James (James Edward Stuart) prompted a group of nobles to invite Prince William of Orange (who had married James daughter Mary) from the Netherlands to England to restore Protestantism and democracy.

William of Orange landed at Torbay on 5 November 1688 in 463 ships unopposed by the Royal Navy, and with an army of 14,000 troops which gathering local support grew to over 20,000 and advanced on London in what became known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’. Many from James’s army including Churchill and James’s daughter Anne defected to support William. James lost his nerve and fled to France throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. His daughter Mary was declared Queen, but she insisted on joint rule with her husband and they were crowned King William III and Queen Mary II. James and his wife and son lived in exile in France as guests of Louis XIV. James landed in Ireland in 1689 with French troops in an attempt to regain the throne and advanced on Londonderry, but was defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. He lived the rest of his life in exile. His son James Edward Stuart (The Old Pretender) and grandson Charles (Bonnie Prince Charlie) made unsuccessful attempts to restore the Jacobite throne in 1715 and 1745 (Royal family history: www.britroyals.com)